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Beasts of the Southern Wild is a Film that Deserves More than Applause; It Deserves a Bow

By Caspar Salmon | Film | June 29, 2012 |

By Caspar Salmon | Film | June 29, 2012 |

Here we have it, a film that had me completely entranced and delighted from beginning to end. Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild is that rare thing — a first film so immediately great and original that you are thrilled to have made its acquaintance. You feel like firm friends by the end of it, and wish there were something more you could do than clap. Bow? Perhaps I should have bowed in front of the film. I loved it.

Beasts tells the story of Hushpuppy, a raggedy six-year-old who lives with her cantankerous father in a community on the Mississippi delta. The child is left pretty much to her own devices and lives in a world of her own imagining, amongst a house full of junk and barnyard animals. She takes a boat along with other children to her completely unorthodox school where a teacher instructs the kids in their animal kinship with feral creatures and enjoins the young ones not to be pussies. Her father, who is dying of an unknown disease, leaves the firl to fend for herself. As a storm approaches and then destroys the community, and with her father at death’s door, Hushpuppy has to make some difficult decisions (especially for a tiny, tiny, tiny child of six).

The film plays out in a style that draws on southern gothic, fairytale, and social realism, peopling its world with great faces and great piles of beautiful old crap littering shots that’s art-directed to perfection. The film moves along at a breathtaking pace, with breath-taking action scenes (for instance when Hushpuppy dynamites a dam with sticks of explosive taped to a dead crocodile) alternating with quieter, well-painted scenes of family and community life. The father-daughter relationship is unorthodox but rings true throughout, as the daughter constantly has to second-guess her fickle father and his rough ways, and endeavours to earn his respect by showing strength and resolve at all times. In the main role, Quvenzhané Wallis gives a completely wondrous performance, and is filmed adoringly in rough, grainy shots and luminous close-ups.

There is so much more to say about the film — what a perfectly realised, wonderfully imagined entity it is, how it feels fresh and exciting in every shot, how its plot and its metaphorical, allusive style of storytelling are perfectly matched. But I think I’ll stop gushing and end with a plea for everyone who loves films to go and see this delightful, vibrant movie.

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